Bell Atlantic joins Intel in futuristic venture 'Electronic meetings' are envisioned

February 18, 1993|By David Conn | David Conn,Staff Writer

Bell Atlantic Corp. and computer chip maker Intel Corp. have teamed up to create a futuristic marriage of computers, phone lines and video images that someday could set up "electronic meetings" or run errands from home.

Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., said it would start shipping circuit boards and software later this year to Philadelphia-based Bell Atlantic, parent of the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone companies, and to Chicago-based Ameritech, another of the regional Bell operating companies.

The announcement demonstrated that Bell Atlantic was continuing its aggressive push into what it believes will be one of the most profitable areas of telecommunications in the future, analysts said.

"Everything related to video and voice integration, Bell Atlantic is pushing the outside of the envelope," said Michael J. Balhoff, an analyst with Legg Mason Inc.

The three companies said the new products would allow Bell Atlantic and Ameritech to offer "data conferencing" over normal phone lines and video conferencing over their integrated services digital networks, which allow for the transmission of a much wider variety of electronic data.

"We believe this technology will ultimately make video conferencing over personal computers as commonplace as the analog phone call is today," Ray Smith, chairman and chief executive of Bell Atlantic, said in a statement.

Over the past several months, Bell Atlantic has been expanding its relationships with cable companies, and putting more fiber optic cable in the ground to develop products, boost demand for, and increase revenues from, voice and video services, Mr. Balhoff said. C&P of Maryland installed its first fiber optic lines last month, to a group of homes in Owings Mills.

"Bell Atlantic's real strategy is to get as good a return as possible off their network, because they are ultimately headed toward interactive video," Mr. Balhoff said. That could mean, for example, ordering and watching rental movies at any time -- complete with pause, rewind and fast forward -- from home, he said.

Bell Atlantic's stock rose $1.375 yesterday, to $54.25. Intel jumped $2.625, to $108.50. But analysts said the gains were more a rebound from Tuesday's broad sell-off than a reaction to yesterday's announcement.

For its part, Intel is trying to join the race for an affordable voice, video and data system.

Eight months ago, Apple Computer Inc. and Northern Telecom Ltd. started selling a version of computer-based video telephones using a Motorola Corp. chip. And a year ago, Pacific Bell, IBM and Northern Telecom agreed to work together toward a video-conferencing system.

Yesterday's agreement was "more to the benefit of Intel [in the short-term] than the phone companies, but if it works, the phone companies will benefit from increased usage of their networks," said Ronald L. Altman, an analyst with Furman Selz Inc.

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